Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

March 15, 2013

edX, the nonprofit massive open online course provider started by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, made a part of its source code available to the open source programming community on Thursday. Until more of its code is made public, developers won't be able to clone edX, but President Anant Agarwal said this week's release will let everyone get a peek at its architecture. He said the entire software platform will be made available in the "not-too-distant future." After that happens, colleges across the world could adapt edX's work and use it to host courses themselves.

edX's decision to eventually make its underlying software publicly available may differentiate it from other MOOC providers like Coursera and Udacity, which are both for-profit companies. This could do several things. First, the wide availability of edX's code could turn programmers across the world into developers for edX if they make useful plug-ins. It could also allow universities to start their own MOOCs without partnering with edX or one of its competitors. So far, edX has tried to position itself as highly selective and has only a dozen universities hosted on its platform compared to Coursera, which has 62.

Finally, there is at least some enthusiasm in the academic community for edX's open source aspirations. For instance, last month, the University of Toronto started offering courses on edX even though it already had a partnership with Coursera. The university's vice provost of academic programs, Cheryl Regehr, said that was in part because of edX's commitment to open source technology.

March 15, 2013

As has become common in recent years, some Republicans in Congress are trying to kill the National Science Foundation's support for political science research. Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, has proposed that the $10 million a year spent by the NSF on political science research be shifted to the National Cancer Institute. "NSF’s political science program siphons valuable resources away from higher priority research that will yield greater applied benefits and potential to stir further innovation," said a fact sheet released by the senator. "This amendment does not aim to hinder science, but rather to allocate more support for research that will save lives."

Hunter R. Rawlings III, president of the Association of American Universities, sent a letter to senators, opposing the proposal. "The amendment sets up a false dichotomy between medical research and research in
the social sciences that we emphatically reject," Rawlings wrote. "The arguments for providing additional funds for NIH and specifically for NCI are obviously strong, and we wish Congress were providing more funding in FY13. However, such funding should not and need not come at the expense of political science research."

The letter went on to defend the value of political science research: "It provides critical information about how democracy works that is useful not only to this country but also to fledgling democracies seeking to make their new forms of government work. As Jonathan Bernstein has pointed out in The Washington Post, Congress and state legislators work very hard to enact legislation that affects our election processes. They deal with issues relating to funding, redistricting, voting rights and obligations, nomination processes, and others. If peer-reviewed academic research can help inform debates over these issues, that alone makes such research worthwhile."

March 15, 2013

More than a dozen cases of mumps have been reported at Loyola University Maryland in the last month, The Baltimore Sun reported. The mumps vaccine has largely removed mumps as a common health problem in the United States, but when outbreaks have broken out, college campuses have been places where mumps can spread quickly. Loyola officials have informed all students and employees of the outbreak, but an incubation period of two weeks prior to symptoms can make it difficult to identify all of those at risk.

 

 

March 15, 2013

The Mozilla Foundation on Thursday debuted its system of standards and verification for digital badges, which are online representations of skills. The Open Badges 1.0 project, which the foundation has jointly worked on with the MacArthur Foundation since 2011, features free software that will enable organizations to develop and issue badges. So far more than 600 groups have signed up.

March 15, 2013

Several colleges have created new scholarships to try to counter sequester-motivated suspension of tuition assistance from the U.S. Department of Defense for active-duty members of the U.S. Air Force, Army, Coast Guard and Marine Corps. Those institutions include Troy University, Southern New Hampshire University, Touro University, Park University, Endicott College and Drury University. Meanwhile, Sen. Jim Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, introduced an amendment that seeks to restore the funding.

March 15, 2013

Friends of Kholood Eid, a graduate student at the University of Missouri at Columbia, called her and asked why her photograph was in an advertisement they saw at the St. Louis airport for Webster University's M.B.A. program. Eid earned an undergraduate degree from Webster and -- as she told The Riverfront Times -- she remembers the university taking her photograph sometime before graduation. So she wanted to know why she was advertising a program in which she never enrolled. Webster officials said that she signed a release stating that the university could use the photograph in any way it wanted -- so Webster is not bothered by promoting its M.B.A. program with someone who never studied for an M.B.A. The university said that the image was a good one. Eid, whose parents are Palestinian, said she has a theory about why her photograph was used: "They just wanted an ethnically ambiguous face."

March 14, 2013

The University of Colorado at Boulder on Wednesday announced the hiring of Steven Hayward as the first visiting scholar in conservative thought and policy. The position was created with $1 million in donations, and follows years of criticism of the left-leaning tilt on the Boulder faculty.  Hayward has taught at Georgetown and held positions at a number of think tanks, including the the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy. At Boulder, Hayward will teach constitutional law, American political thought and free-market environmentalism.

In a statement, Hayward called the creation of his position "a bold experiment for the university and me to see whether the ideological spectrum can be broadened in a serious and constructive way." He added that he hoped he would interact with students with a range of views. "Good teaching should make all students, of whatever disposition, better thinkers,” he said. “In the humanities, this should be done by considering fairly the full range of perspectives on a subject. That’s the way I intend to conduct classes while I am visiting at the university, and I hope that students of every kind of opinion will feel welcome in my classroom.”

March 14, 2013

The College of the Atlantic announced this week that its board voted to sell all fossil-fuel-related investments. The move follows a student push -- at that college and elsewhere -- to sell investments in companies whose businesses they believe are harmful to the environment. A spokeswoman for the college said that the total endowment is about $30 million and that the value of investments sold to comply with the policy was just under $1 million.

 

March 14, 2013

New research at York University in Canada both confirms and extends the concerns of many faculty members about laptop use in class. The research found that undergraduates who multitask on laptops comprehend less of what has been covered in a lecture than do other students. That part is unlikely to surprise most professors. But the study also examined students who were taking notes -- with some students sitting next to those who were multitasking on their laptops. Those next to a laptop multitasker also saw drops in what they picked up from the lecture. The findings have been published in the journal Computers & Education.

March 14, 2013

Officials in New York State have drafted plans to spin off the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering from the State University of New York at Albany, The Albany Times Union reported. The plan would make the nanoscale college its own specialized college, much like SUNY's College of Environmental Science and Forestry. The nanoscale college has been a major research success for SUNY, attracting considerable industry support. State and SUNY officials declined to comment on the plan, which would require several levels of approval.

 

 

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